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School Deal Disappoints Montgomery
O'Malley Had Backed More for Construction

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 24, 2008

A key state committee has recommended allocating $46.3 million for school construction in Montgomery County next year, shy of a $55 million goal to which Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) agreed as he was courting the votes of Montgomery lawmakers during a special legislative session last fall.

A spokesman for County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and several Montgomery lawmakers voiced disappointment yesterday, citing the county's large school construction needs and Leggett's work to build support for O'Malley's proposals during the special session. As part of his plan to address looming budget deficits, O'Malley pushed for a package of tax increases as well as a referendum on legalizing slot-machine gambling.

"I think he's not sensitive to the needs of Montgomery County, and that he's taking the county for granted," said Sen. Rona E. Kramer (D-Montgomery), chairman of the county's Senate delegation.

The recommendations of the Interagency Committee on School Construction are scheduled for consideration next month by the Board of Public Works, a three-member panel on which O'Malley sits, along with the state treasurer and comptroller.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the governor will continue to study the committee's recommendation but said it is "unlikely" that the Board of Public Works will alter the allocations.

"Forty-six million is a tremendous amount of money," Abbruzzese said. "Given the budget challenges we face, it's an incredible accomplishment."

Under the recommendations, Montgomery would receive $5 million more for school construction next year than any other jurisdiction. Three other large jurisdictions -- Prince George's County and the city and county of Baltimore -- would each get $41 million from a total allocation of $340 million.

"We tried to achieve a very fair distribution," said David Lever, executive director of the committee that made the recommendations. "There are needs across the state."

Through a spokesman, Leggett said yesterday that he was "very disappointed" in Montgomery's $46.3 million allocation.

"We are going to continue to work on this," said Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield.

Some Montgomery lawmakers, however, acknowledged the long odds against a better outcome before the Board of Public Works, even though two of the board's members -- Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) -- once represented Montgomery in the legislature.

"It's very difficult for the Board of Public Works to realign the distribution because the board would be taking away money from others to give to us, which understandably the board would be reluctant to do," said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery). He said he found the situation "unacceptable."

O'Malley, who has made spending on school construction a statewide priority since taking office last year, has close ties to four of the five members of the committee that crafted the proposed allocations. The members include his Cabinet secretaries for planning and general services.

O'Malley is also close to two members, Timothy Maloney and Frederick W. Puddester, appointed by legislative leaders. Maloney, a former state delegate, served on O'Malley's transition committee and continues to be an informal adviser. Puddester, a former state budget secretary, was tapped by O'Malley to lead the campaign to legalize slots in November.

The chair of the committee is State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Recollections differ over the degree to which O'Malley committed to $55 million for Montgomery. Asked about the figure in January, he said: "That's their goal, and I'm going to do my best to get to it."

Leggett cited the figure the previous month in his State of the County address, saying: "I believe that one of the achievements of the special session is that we now anticipate receiving as much as $55 million from the state to help meet our critical school construction needs in next year's budget."

Del. Brian Feldman (D), chairman of the county's House delegation, said $46.3 million was certainly short of what he anticipated. If the figure does not increase, "it may or may not affect our dealings with the governor going forward on other votes in the next two years," Feldman said.

Staff writer Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.

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